Drive-through Vaccination

Jessica Medghalchi, a nurse with the Frederick County Health Department, administers a dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine to Aron Lewin March 5.

After a chart reportedly showing the rate of employee vaccinations at public school systems across the state went viral in early March, many Frederick County residents were left wondering why Frederick County Public Schools was dead last.

According to the graphic, which was created by the Maryland State Department of Education, only 20 percent of FCPS staff who requested a vaccine had received one. Other school districts such as Carroll, Howard and Montgomery counties were all reporting staff vaccination rates above 50 percent.

But numerous county officials say the chart was incorrect.

“It’s a much higher number … it’s hard for us to know how many people have been fully vaccinated because they’ve gone to places where we don’t have the information,” County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said.

Moreover, according to data collected by both FCPS and the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA), a majority of FCPS staff have already received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

FCTA surveyed its 3,000 members in early March and found that 72 percent had received their first shot. When a survey was sent out by the school system to all employees on March 15 to gauge how many staff members still needed a vaccine appointment, only 600 employees indicated they were still interested in securing one.

Therefore, the natural conclusion, FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban said, is that a majority of the 7,000 other employees had either scheduled an appointment through other means, already received their first dose or were fully vaccinated.

An issue that seems to be contributing to the low rate of vaccination reported on the MSDE chart is that FCPS cannot legally ask employees if they have received a vaccine or where they received one. But based on the FCTA survey, most employees who are already vaccinated indicated they had to travel outside the county for a shot, which leads to the question of what went wrong within the county to cause so many people to get in their cars and sometimes drive as far as Ocean City?

“What has been so challenging is the lack of available vaccine doses in Frederick County, the inability to have a sense of what was coming so you could put a plan together that you could communicate to staff,” Alban said.

The superintendent said plans to vaccinate FCPS employees en masse within the county fell apart within a week. There was little to no information on how many doses the county would receive each week and on which days the allotment for teachers would arrive. The state previously indicated that at least 100 doses should be allocated to educators each week.

Further, there are approximately 14,000 people in the county who are 75 and older, which makes them priority No. 1 for the vaccine. Alban said she knew from the beginning that there was going be a delay.

“I’m looking at that and I’m thinking that’s going to push us back if you have to do all of them first,” she said.

Frederick County also chose to prioritize all educators in the county, not just FCPS workers. That includes private school employees, higher education employees and day care providers.

“Right from the start, we have been vaccinating all of them. We have not been giving preferential treatment, everybody is being treated the same in the education category,” Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, county health officer, said recently. “In Frederick County, we’ve made sure we’ve been vaccinating all the educators. Other jurisdictions have been vaccinating just the public school system educators.”

But there also seemed to be issues with the system that was stood up. Educators with appointments have been turned away from local county clinics, and some who pre-registered in mid-January have still not been contacted for an appointment.

Alban said link-sharing was a significant issue that led to people being turned away at the door. She said, when people were individually emailed to sign up for an appointment through the county health department, they would share the link or the email with their colleagues.

“It seems to make sense, because if I’m an educator and I’m getting invited, you should be able to, as well, but what was happening was sometimes you might have been invited as an educator or you might have been invited because you were in another priority group,” Alban said.

There was confusion and disappointment that led some educators to stay up late into the night to secure appointments around the state.

The availability of doses has almost never met the demand within Frederick County. Gardner has encouraged those who were eligible to consider getting appointments at mass vaccination sites around the state as they began to open.

“People went to Ocean City, people went down to Six Flags. Is that how we wanted to see this happen? No. [It’s] the reality that we as a county had to confront,” Alban said

Alban and Gardner hope a majority of educators within the county will have received their first dose of the vaccine by April 1, and local leaders are advocating for a mass vaccination site within the county.

For now, though, county officials stress that FCPS is not at the bottom of the statewide list for vaccination rates.

Reporter Steve Bohnel contributed to this report.

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill

(15) comments

Aslan19

Two thoughts...

1. People really need to understand what HIPAA law says. The overwhelming lack of basic understanding of medical privacy, as well as the stupidity of recommendations for solutions, is mind-blowing. We do not need to be surrendering more privacy to the government. We need to be getting all levels of government out of our lives.

2. The lack of intelligent assumptions by the FCPS Superintendent is somewhat surprising. The quote that "the natural conclusion, FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban said, is that a majority of the 7,000 other employees had either scheduled an appointment through other means, already received their first dose or were fully vaccinated" leaves out at least one major option. However, that option does not fit with the governmental mantra that the vaccine is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

chris

CVS, for one, does not share the information they collect with anyone. That includes *who* they have vaccinated. They should be required to, if they're going to get a huge contract during a public health emergency.

Aslan19

Chris, there is this little thing called medical privacy. It is built into a federal law called HIPAA. Covid being a "public health emergency" does not overrule federal law.

Dwasserba

"But there also seemed to be issues with the system that was stood up." Unusual phrasing.

chris

Yes! There are a number of them in this particular article. Like this whopper: "But based on the FCTA survey, most employees who are already vaccinated indicated they had to travel outside the county for a shot, which leads to the question of what went wrong within the county to cause so many people to get in their cars and sometimes drive as far as Ocean City?"

HappySeller2014

If I can get a card with my full name, birthday, type of vaccine, batch number and location ID of where shot was given, and vaccine dose (first or second) there is NO EXCUSE why ANYONE, from the federal down to the state level, should not be able to track me, my fellow neighbors and friends, and all Marylanders. ESPECIALLY if everyone has to either fight for spots through CVS, RITEAID or WALGREENS websites, or enroll in databases at the state and local levels that send out notifications that vaccines have become available, and where.

This vaccine deployment has been a complete circus since DAY ONE. All this smoke and mirrors and explaining away and excuses is simply covering up complete malfeasance and incompetence of those in charge. They could not beat themselves out of a paper bag with the instructions printed on the inside how to do so.

It is really not that hard to set up a database for 7,000 local teachers. FCPS should know the vaccination status of each and every teacher, vaccinated or not at this time, at the touch of a computer keyboard button.

[crying][thumbdown][crying][thumbdown][crying][thumbdown]

bpswp

There should be a statewide data base of whom has been vaccinated. After receiving my vaccines through FHH, I received multiple calls from the FC Health Dept telling me I was eligible to make an appointment.

Jim Hartley

Yes. We have to accept that such systems, which must be local and state and national, are going to cost serious money. When these nasty diseases pop up we don't know if they are going to be highly contagious or highly deadly or both, or whether vaccines are going to be quick and highly effective, or slow and minimally effective. Ebola and Zika and SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2, all in the past 20 years. The next one could be mild, or it could have a death rate of 10% instead of 1%. We have to maintain readiness.

HappySeller2014

Jim, a tracking sysytem for this should be cheap. Using a serious money excuse is waving a read flag. It is not that hard to build databases that cull vital information from easily accessible data sources.

This current environment is being run by knuckleheads. FCTA sends out a survey??? Are you kidding me, for 7K or 10K or whatever number of teachers and staff?

Just set up a database and ask all teachers and staff to self report. Of those that do, tally their status. Have off to the side those teachers and staff who have not reported yet.

I could build a database on my computer tonight in my basement in two hours while watching a hockey game on ESPN. There is NO need for surveys, or extrapolations, or guesses. Just push a button at any given time of the day and get an up-to-the-minute status of your 10K or so staff.

A high schooler could build the is database by COB today, my friend. Then, FCPS folks would need to honestly and responsibly populate it with good data. I am sure FCPS teachers and staff would do so in good faith, as they are all good people and want to protect themselves and all our kids. And this database should have been built back on January 15th.

Fredginrickey

Self reporting is the key, I agree

Jim Hartley

I apologize, I thought the article was particularly clear on the limitations of our current arrangements, and the legal requirements under which the FCPS must operate. My mistake.

HappySeller2014

No apology needed Jim. This article was all over the place.

A big part of my frustration here is that, as a parent, I had to prove my children were completely up to date on their immunizations before they could enter the doors of my local FCOS elementary school. FCPS tracks that like white on rice to protect its teachers, staff, and other students.

Yet when it comes to tracking, monitoring, or reporting out on FCPS teacher and staff CIVID-19 vacinations, we are in the world of FCTA surveys, FCPS systems not working, guesstimates and extrapolations.

Just pure stupidity. And either incompetence or laziness...and lack of initiative and forward thinking.

fnpreader123

I speak from personal experience when I say that no, the government cannot handle this. I have had multiple sets of shots repeated because they lost my shot records, or entered them in wrong. Ask almost any veteran or current service member, and they can tell you at least one or two stories of how their data was mismanaged.

gabrielshorn2013

Agreed Happy. They maintain our kids immunization status, but not the teachers? Why is that?

HappySeller2014

Thanks Gabby for the shout out. "Why is that" you ask?

You will not get a good answer.

Just like when I question why, year after year, the FCPS budget request goes up multi millions of $s, but it is clear here FCPS does not even have the professional capacity to build a simple tracking database to tally about 7K to 10K teacher/staff COVID-19 vaccinations.

Pathetic circus on our taxpayer's dimes.

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